Carolina Panthers' Jonathan Stewart (28) runs past Atlanta Falcons players in the first half of an NFL football game in Charlotte, N.C., Sunday, Dec. 13, 2015. (AP Photo/Mike McCarn)
Mike McCarn
December 16, 2015

CHARLOTTE, N.C. (AP) The Carolina Panthers will be without their starting running back on Sunday against the New York Giants as they look to keep their unbeaten season intact.

Coach Ron Rivera said Wednesday that Jonathan Stewart has been ruled out due to a sprained left foot.

Stewart, who is third in the NFL in rushing with 989 yards, left last Sunday's 38-0 win over the Atlanta Falcons early. Rivera said either Fozzy Whittaker or Mike Tolbert will start for Carolina (13-0).

Whittaker, the team's backup running back, has 74 yards rushing on 18 carries with one touchdown. He's also caught eight passes for 44 yards.

Rivera said rookie Cameron Artis-Payne will get an opportunity to play. He has played in four games this season with 31 yards on 12 carries.

Rivera said the MRI on Stewart's left foot Monday came back negative but the running back still has some swelling in the foot and the best remedy is rest.

With the Panthers already having secured a first-round bye in the NFC playoffs, Rivera said he's going to be ''very cautious'' with Stewart moving forward. However, he said the team doesn't view this as a long-term injury.

''We are going to be very smart with him,'' Rivera said.

Rivera also said he's uncertain whether Pro Bowl tight end Greg Olsen will play against the Giants, saying the team will take a ''we'll see'' approach this week. Olsen injured his knee against the Falcons and, like Stewart, did not play in the second half.

Olsen has started 139 straight games.

Charles Tillman returned to practice Wednesday and ''looked well,'' Rivera said. The coach said he hopes the veteran cornerback will be available to play against the suddenly hot Eli Manning.

Tillman has missed the last four games with a sprained knee.

Rivera said Tillman took all of the reps in practice and ''he is a little rusty and his conditioning isn't where it needed to be, but he moved around good.''

The Panthers could certainly use Tillman this week against standout wide receiver Odell Beckham Jr. and Manning, who was named NFC Offensive Player of the Week. Carolina lost cornerback Bene Benwikere, who had been starting for Tillman, to a fractured leg against the Falcons.

Carolina signed free agent Robert McClain to take Benwikere's spot. McClain, who was drafted by Carolina in 2000, has played in 63 games with 17 starts, recording 202 tackles and three interceptions.

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